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Madison School Board supportive of virtual option for fall, but have questions on long-term plans for Madison Promise Academy

Madison School Board supportive of virtual option for fall, but have questions on long-term plans for Madison Promise Academy

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Sherman Middle School sixth-grader, Nadia Cid, signs on for the first day of virtual school in September 2020. Her mother made a sign to decorate her daughter’s desk for her first day of middle school.

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A new Madison Metropolitan School District virtual academy is likely to open this fall, but administrators are still working out details as they ask the School Board to approve funding later this month.

Administrators have asked board members to approve $840,000 for the Madison Promise Academy later this month in an early budget vote for the 2021-22 school year so they can move forward with planning for the fall. MPA, as proposed, would allow 200-250 students in grades 6-12 to take their core classes online through a school with dedicated staff.

Some board members said during a budget discussion Monday night they would like more details on the plan ahead of committing money. But as things move quickly amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that information — including about how potential virtual learning would look for students in grades 4K-5 — isn’t expected until this summer.

“We’re moving with this train and things are not traditional how we would’ve done certain things,” superintendent Carlton Jenkins said. “We’re not in a traditional situation, but we are trying to respond to (you) and be responsible.”

Board members were mostly supportive of a dedicated virtual learning option this fall, as they anticipate some students will want to stay home for health reasons and others have found they like virtual learning better. Cris Carusi asked that if the money is approved for this fall, that it not be built into the 2022-23 budget from the start but instead be part of a larger conversation about creating a new school.

[MMSD planning virtual 'Madison Promise Academy' for fall with 200-250 students]

“I feel comfortable approving this because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we need to have a virtual option next year,” she said, calling it a “one-time expense.” “I would not feel comfortable having this built into the base budget next year.”

Christina Gomez Schmidt said she views the district as “still a little bit in flux” and is “excited about the opportunity to start looking at this virtual learning program as a permanent option for us,” but wanted more discussion about the instructional model as well as what will be available for other students beyond the 200-250 in the program.

“We do need to understand how all of the pieces fit together,” Gomez Schmidt said. “What I’m trying to understand is the other pieces that we’re going to have in place also to support students and student learning.”

MPA would allow students who find virtual learning more suitable to have teachers dedicated to them. Students enrolled would still take some elective class offerings like music or drama in-person.

The $840,000 would fund a school leader, up to seven teachers and curriculum and professional development. The latter of those would come from projected federal relief funds, according to the presentation Monday night.

[MMSD high schools moving toward eliminating standalone honors courses for ninth, 10th grades]

District administrators are expected to publish a full draft preliminary budget at the end of April, with the board set for a vote in June.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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